The Authority and Power to Forgive

 
Caravaggio_-_Taking_of_Christ_-_Dublin.jpg
 
 

 “Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders confessing, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself’…and he went and hanged himself” – Matthew 27:3-5

Contrary to all appearances there are two, and only two, churches in the world. The two brandish the name “Christian”. One, in spite all her voluminous and unattractive flaws, is the external expression of Christ’s church, and the other prances around bearing the name of a “Christian” or “biblical” church.

Given the shear number of churches out there, obvious questions arise. How can you possibly know which church to go to? What do you look for in seeking to find the right church? What thing allows one to ‘discern the spirits’ between the true and the imposter? These are critical questions because who wants to go to the wrong church, yet so many claim the name Christian and biblical!

Judas’ dying in unbelief was not due to lacking some quality in his repentance or confession. Judas desperately confesses, “I have sinned…”. No man can know the depth of his heart’s treachery (Jer 17:9). After his confession, however, what does Judas receive from his pastors? “What is that to us? See to it yourself” (Matt 27:4). Judas’ problem was that he went to the wrong church! He thought it to be the right church, the religious church of his time. He didn’t go to his barber, a bar tender, or a psychologist to confess his sin. He went to a church, to the priests and elders who held office in that church. They seemed to be the right folks and the right place. They had all the good marks of (fallen) pious religion. They had popularity and were influential among the people (Matt 27:20). They had and studied the scriptures and were “biblical”, seeking to be ‘godly’, and ‘desiring God’ (John 5:29). They evangelized everywhere to make converts and change the culture (Matt 23:15). They didn’t dare ruin their witness by associating with the ungodly (Matt 9:11). They loved the law (Matt 19:3), and they were exceedingly moral, pursuing holiness and growth beyond all measure (Phil 3:5). Surely, this religion was the church!

Judas, having realized his grave sin, sought out a church to go to so he could make confession. Again, what did he receive from its pastors? “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” Judas went to the counterfeit church. He went to the church that would not open the Kingdom of Heaven for him, but sealed it up (Matt 23:13) because they would not absolve him. This same church feigning to be Christ’s church exists to this very day and will always run in parallel with Christ’s church. It goes by various biblical terms, has the Bible within its walls, uses Christ’s name, searches the scriptures seeking a godly life, and it lays claim to being “biblical”.

However, it is just like all of the other fallen religions out there. It closes Heaven for all who attend by refusing the authority given by Christ Himself to absolve your sins. If your conscience is bothered by your sin, this church will say to you in countless ways, “What is that to us, see to it yourself.” Not exercising Christ’s authority it will say, “Only God can forgive your sins, so seek and look to Christ (seeing to it yourself of course).” “Let’s pray together that God will grant you assurance of forgiveness (seeing to the answer yourself somehow).” They will give you 1,001 “see to it yourself” things to do, but will not dare utter Christ’s absolution for you. They will not unlock the gates of Heaven for you.

Judas did not return to the true church he had just attended where the Kingdom of Heaven had been wide open to him, poured into his mouth, receiving Christ’s absolution for his sin, “Take/eat…this is My body/blood…given/shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin.” (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 11:22-24; Luke 22:19-23; 1 Cor 11:23-26). Judas’ sin after the Lord’s Supper was not essentially different or more egregious than Peter’s and the other apostles’ who de facto betrayed Jesus by slinking off into the dark. Christ even absolved those who were in the act of spitting, cursing, beating, and crucifying Him, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). For whom does Christ not absolve, then and now, for every single sin committed past tense, present perfect tense, and future perfect tense? Neither did Christ’s absolution “run out” nor “reach a limit” due to Judas’ sin. Christ knew Judas’ imminent sin (John 13:25-30) and yet still absolved Him with His body and blood—and Christ is neither a skeptic nor a liar.

In Judas, we see the real terrifying reality of sin day to day. The devil, our flesh, and the world arises afresh to accuse us of sin in an attempt to overthrow Christ’s promise, and in our vain imaginations we think, “At last now I have done it, the sin after grace that cannot be forgiven.” Judas’ fatal mistake was that he went to the church where the door to Heaven is locked from the inside, where only hypocrisy and despair rule unto death.

Neither did Christ’s absolution “run out” nor “reach a limit” due to Judas’ sin.
— Larry Hughes

Therein lies the thing that you and I can use to discern the spirits and find the right church. For what does the sinner seek? He seeks forgiveness for his constant reoccurring strong sin that accuses him! Look for the church that has the authority to forgive your sins so that Heaven is open and lets you in. This is the authority Christ had that the other church of His time (and ours) questioned (questions) constantly (Mark 2:7). The same authority Christ asserted for Himself and gave to His church for all time:

“‘As the Father has sent Me [in authority to forgive your sins], even so I am sending you.’ And He breathed on them and declared, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them…’” – John 20:21-23

“Be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is to you and your children and all who are far off to Whom the Lord our God calls.” – Acts 2:38

“Take/eat…this is My body/blood…given/shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin.” – Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 11:22-24; Luke 22:19-23; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Just imagine if Judas had gone to Christ’s church, confessed, and heard instead,

“…Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders confessing, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ They said, ‘Almighty God in His mercy has given His Son to die for you and for His sake forgives you all your sins. As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Go away in peace’.”

 

Larry Hughes is a member of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Danville, Kentucky where he serves as head elder. He is a graduate of Western Kentucky University holding a degree in Geology, and resides in central Kentucky where he works as a Geologist Branch Manager in the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection. He is a contributor to the book Wittenberg Confessions – Testimonies of Converts to Confessional Lutheranism.




 
 
Larry HughesLarry Hughes